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In the early 1630s Van Dyck embarked on an ambitious project to etch portraits of illustrious men, today known by the eighteenth-century title as the Iconography. While such portrait series were not new the involvement of such a prestigious artist and the use of etching for its execution was innovative. In total Van Dyck made seventeen etchings for the series, with engravers producing the other portraits after his works.
Technically Van Dyck's etchings are magnificent failures. The drawing shows his virtuosity, but the etching demonstrates that he was a careless and inexpert practitioner. His plates were not well prepared as can be seen by the fine vertical lines printed across the surface which resulted from sanding the plate. Although he used stopping-out varnish to prevent the edges of his prints from being etched he was sloppy in its use. The white spot below the buttons on Sustermans' chest and in the right corner of the portrait resulted from drops of varnish falling on the plate, thus preventing the areas from being bitten by the acid. Yet the technical deficiencies of Van Dyck's etchings do not take away from the works. If anything, combined with their sketchy quality and refreshing simplicity, they give the works an immediacy suggestive of the speed with which he must have worked.
Viewed under raking light this print reveals an aspect of the paper’s making; a rope mark runs horizontally across it, just below its centre. Once the sheets of paper were formed, they were dried on ropes. As seen here the ropes could make an impression of their own. The printing date noted above derives from its acquisition documents and research has not yet confirmed it. Gallery Paper Conservator, Ute Strehle, does observe that it is on very fine laid paper with an unidentified jester's head watermark. (Masters of the Bitten Line, 2006)
- Justus Sustermans
- Production date
- early 1630s
- 361 x 263 mm
- Credit line
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1981
- Accession no
- No known copyright restrictions
- International Art
- Display status
- Not on display
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